Florida Keys: The Writing/Researching Life

If you’re interested in where I’ve been the past few weeks, my report on the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) tour of the Florida Keys appears today in The Miami Planet. If you write about science topics for children–fiction or nonfiction–I highly recommend checking out the SEJ conference. I don’t know anywhere else where I would have collected so much information on setting, science, and location-specific topics as I did on this trip. I don’t know anywhere else where I would have experienced so many different people, places, and adventures in such a short period of time.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, if nature, science, or the environment feature prominently in your work, you need to check out this organization.



NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

This post was originally published November 29, 2009–at the end of the 2009 NaNoWriMo. Debating whether to join NaNoWriMo this year? Read on!

I suffered a crisis of confidence during this last week of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). One week left to write–including Thanksgiving day–and I still had 18,000 words to go.

Could I do it? Maybe.

Was it worth it? I was starting to be less and less certain.

I’ve been demanding a bit more of myself during this year’s event. I’ve been revising (a big no-no) and doing a fair bit of pre-writing, so that when I did write, the material was good. It’s been great for my page output—I’ve written far more than I would have otherwise—but with 18K to the finish line and far too few days to write them, revision and pre-writing would have to go by the wayside. Doubt attacked. Should I be pushing so hard? Am I neglecting family in order to meet a meaningless goal? Will I even be able to use the writing I’m producing?

Time and again, reason told me to quit. Time and again, I kept plugging forward. I knew I probably couldn’t make it, but I couldn’t…quite…give up.

There are a few days left until the finish and, miraculously, I think I’m going to make it. In the end, this year’s NaNo is proving to be incredibly beneficial, despite all my doubts to the contrary. So…here’s my partial list of what I’ve learned during this month of craziness:

  1. You know those little motivational emails NaNo sends out every week to encourage writers forward? They really help. Encouragement isn’t a waste of time, but a way to refill my creative tank.
  2. When doubt attacks, just keep plugging forward. Experience shows that I’ll (eventually) come out on the other side.
  3. I’ve learned that if I practice long enough, even I—and avowed pen-and-paper gal—can learn to write first draft material on the keyboard. It’s much faster!
  4. Even when I feel like I’m writing useless schlock, it’s never long before the scene starts to come to life for me. Maybe I won’t be able to use this draft of the novel word for word, but through the practice of intense word production, I’ve made discoveries that will appear in the final draft. Over and over again.
  5. Reaching for an impossible-seeming goal stretches me in more ways than I ever expect. It’s led to a month of rediscovering what I value about writing—and rediscovering how to balance writing with the rest of my life. It’s also stretched my ability to write quickly, which is a valuable thing for any writer to learn to do.

Even if I don’t write another  word this month, I’ve already gained more than expected from this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes, pushing yourself is the only way to discover what you’re capable of doing…and discovering your best is, I think, one of the keys to thriving on the writer’s road.

:-) Cheryl

Tightening Your (Manuscript’s) Belt: a Checklist for Eliminating Unnecessary Prose

This post–my Tuesday Ten stand-in–was originally published January 20, 2011. Hope you enjoy!

Writers: we like to write. Some of us (like me!) like to write lots and lots and lots of pretty words…and then have to cut half of them during the rewrite/polish process.

I’ve been doing a LOT of rewriting—and cutting and tightening—these past few months. If you need to do a bit of your own manuscript pruning, read on for ways to tighten your story and bring down your word count!

Checklist for Tightening the MS Belt

1. Do you say the same thing twice?

  • Example: Sudden tears burn at my eyes, angry and hot.
  • Rewrite: Sudden tears burn at my eyes.
    –“angry and hot” doesn’t add anything to the description

  • Example: It’s almost worse that he sounds okay. If he was overwhelmed with emotion, I could forgive him more easily.
  • Rewrite: It’s almost worse that he sounds okay.
    –“If he was overwhelmed with emotion, I could forgive him more easily” doesn’t add new information.

2. Do you use two adjectives when one might do?

  • Example: He blinked bright eyes the color of blueberries.
  • Rewrite: He blinked eyes the color of blueberries.
    –Okay, it’s nice to know his eyes are bright, but is that really important for the scene? Probably not.

3. Do you use an adverb and verb when a single strong verb might be better?

  • Example: Cass put the pot angrily on the stove.
  • Rewrite: Cass slammed the pot onto the stove.
    –“slammed” replaces “put…angrily”, cutting a word and increasing emotional impact

4. Do you spell out information that’s already implied?

  • Example: We won’t be here long. There’s no reason to change your schedule just because we’re north of the equator for a few weeks.
  • Rewrite: There’s no reason to change your schedule just because we’re north of the equator for a few weeks.
    –“We won’t be here long” is implied.
  • Example: “I know it’s hard,” I say finally. “It’s okay.”
  • Rewrite: “It’s okay,” I say finally.
    –“I know it’s hard” is implied by the fact that she forgives him enough to say “it’s okay.”
  • Example: “Yes, I was going to tell you. I was waiting for a good time.”
  • Rewrite: “I was waiting for a good time.”
    –Again, “Yes, I was going to tell you” is implied if we skip straight to “I was waiting for a good time.”

On a larger scale, it’s easy to do the same sort of overwriting with scenes as well as sentences. Here are a few final rewrite questions:

  1. Do you show any scene that might better be narrated in a few succinct lines? We all know the old “show-don’t-tell” adage, but if you show every event in your novel, you’ll never reach the end.
  2. Do any of your scenes repeat an earlier event? Sometimes, I discover that I’ve written two scenes that serve essentially the same purpose: they reveal the same information, develop the same relationship, or move the story forward in the same way. When that happens, one scene needs to go.
  3. Do you give too much stage direction as you move between scenes? Often you can skip straight from point A to point B with only a sentence to orient your reader. Look for extraneous stage directions and cut!

Happy writing—and rewriting and slashing and pruning!

:) Cheryl

Ahoy, Sea Serpent! Blog Hop


This is a continuation of one of the story lines in Kerri Cuevas’s Ahoy Sea Serpent Blog Hop. Click on the link to start your adventure. You’re here because you chose to Go with the creature!

You’re probably crazy, but you start swimming toward the sea serpent and the strange glowing dome. The monster watches with huge eyes unblinking until, apparently satisfied that you’re cooperating, it twists to dive alongside you. Iridescent scales speed past. Realizing it will leave you behind, you grab one of its pectoral fins.

Your arm nearly jerks out of its socket, water roars in your ears, and the tank slides from your grip so quickly that you only manage to save it by wrapping both legs around the cold metal. Your eyes burn with salt water, but you can’t bring yourself to close them. Beneath the dome’s glow, you’re sure you see buildings and, even better, some of the moving shapes look the right size to be human.

If, by some miracle, people live in this strange structure, you might find your love living with them.

Then you see it: a shimmering oval edged in white, clearly some sort of entrance into the dome. Even better, the oval is nearly transparent, so you can see the people within pointing at you.

Eagerly, you push away from the sea serpent and start toward it—but the serpent’s tail whips around you in tight coils. It drags you down another twenty feet as you writhe in its grip, then releases you alongside a second dome, this one a hundred thousand times smaller than the first. It, too, has what looks like a doorway marked with a thin green glow. Inside, all is dark, but you glimpse a flash of white that looks disturbingly like teeth.

The serpent’s immense head butts against you, pushing you to the door.

Do you try to open the doorway into the smaller dome?

Or do you swim back to the larger dome and the people you saw within?